By: Alexandra Cook
Between March 1-4, 2021 elections for the new Student Union executive team are taking place. An integral part of these elections is the student body voting. Candidates put a lot of time into their manifesto's and researching the best ways they can improve QUB within their new respective roles. Callum Dann, running for Student Union President, reached out to The Verdict to share his manifesto and why running is so important to him.
Alex: First and Foremost, congratulations on your run for Student Union President! What initially made you reach for this role?
Callum: Being as Residential Assistant this past year has really opened up my eyes to the absolute hellish year students are having. I have really seen how much Queen’s are letting down us students. It makes me incredibly mad. Combined with the fact I have also been studying through the pandemic, I really think I know the problems and know the solutions. So yeah, I wanted to run to be the change I want to see. And I think that change has to been radical and it has to be doable. The SU do a wonderful job, but they could do more.
Alex: What experience/background do you have in a leadership role that you think would assist you in this position?
Callum: Firstly, as I mentioned previously, being a Residential Assistant has really gifted me with an amazing opportunity. I learned so much from the role and it asserted within me great confidence to lead. I have helped students in their most vulnerable form, and I think the basic foundation of a leader is compassion. Being an RA has installed within me so much compassion and love – I really want to change things and change now will impact my final year of study! Secondly, I have sat on the University’s Mind Your Mood committee, looking at ways of campaigning to break down the stigma around mental health and improve services. That leadership role has made me into a real team player, understanding how to work as an effective team to deliver a common goal. Change comes as a collective effort, not the efforts of one person. And lastly, I would say being a Charity Trustee when I was 18 – having been recognised for my volunteering – gave me the confidence to question, challenge and fight. You know, I was dealing with the Mayor of London, senior politicians and local officials to secure funding for the charity. The charity focussed around young people, so I really understand the issues facing students today.
Alex: Tell me about your manifesto and the issues you are holding at the forefront of your campaign.
Callum: The important thing to say about my manifesto is that it is realistic, doable and achievable. Everything I have pledged to do, I know I can do it within my year as President. I know I could work with the student officer team to deliver real, effective change. The forefront of my campaign is all about mental wellbeing. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that all we have is each other. We need to look out for each other, and we need to make sure the SU is there for all students, through all their struggles. My big thing is accessibility – making sure that people can actually get the help, not just know it is there. My QUB Welfare Van idea, which would provide pop-up services around Belfast without an appointment, would really improve that access. On people’s course, under my presidency, they would have trained Student Welfare Champions which again would provide an easy way to obtaining the help provided by Queens. We cannot paint over the issues, we must address them face on.
Alex: What do you think needs to change within the Student Union and how do you propose doing it?
Callum: To be perfectly honest, I think the SU need a total change of direction. The amount of students I speak to who say I went onto the SU website and saw they were campaigning to abolish tuition fees but wish they’d focus more on realistic things such as improving mental wellbeing. Don’t get me wrong, abolishing tuition fees would be great, but the SU only has a certain amount of resources and I think most of its energy should be spent on things that can be changed from a student level. So, if I was President I would, on day one, set a strategic plan with my fellow officers and agree to focus on my three priorities: reforming the services (disability, mental health etc), accommodation and COVID. The biggest way I would do this is demand a seat on the Executive Board, not sub-committees. This certainly is a doable step, because all we need to do is cut out the middleman (being the sub-committees) and focus our energy on the top level of governance. With a seat at the executive table, the Vice Chancellor could no longer ignore the views of students. I am the only candidate who is not stuck in the QUBSU bureaucracy and can bring real, radical change.
Alex: With Covid-19 still very much present within society and looking like it will be for the foreseeable future, how do you plan on implementing inclusive activities for QUB Students while maintain Covid-safe protocols?
Callum: I have set out very clearly that we need to have a broad range of inclusive activities for wellbeing of our students. As an RA, I set up several online events and managed to manoeuvre around COVID. I will use those skills too as President. As soon as the Government allows, we will re-establish safe regular meet-up of societies and reopen the Speakeasy. And importantly, we will CUT prices at the Speakeasy; students definitely deserve that. But I think the more important conversation to have is how we are going to be included in the process of coming out of lockdown. As President I would absolutely want to be included in NI Executive talks of how to ease NI out of lockdown. Students make up a large portion of Belfast’s population and economy and we ought to be consulted on how to lift lockdown. But, nonetheless, I would ensure the SU has a plan to exit from COVID and be ready to support clubs & societies to get back to some kind of safe normality.
Alex: In the summer of 2020, an Instagram account titled “QUBsurvivors” was made and many students have come forward about the appalling rate of sexual assault experiences prevalent amongst students throughout their time at QUB. Do you think this is an issue that needs to be more openly addressed, and how do you think an education can start to ensure campus/QUB culture is more safe for everyone?
Callum: Without making any statement, I would like to express absolute solidarity with every single person who has ever felt unsafe on campus or in Belfast. You are believed, you are entitled to feel the way you do and you need to be listened to. I know also there is a problem with strife racism in QUB. These are grave issues which deserve full and open conversation about. I have been having these conversations with students and some societies behind the scenes about how we can address this “culture”. It draws back into what I was saying earlier about the SU having its priorities right. I would start an immediate AWARENESS campaign, with the full resources of the SU into it, to highlight these awful issues facing our students. It would be one of QUB’s biggest campaigns, bringing in help from Stormont, PSNI and Belfast Council. It is not acceptable, it will not be tolerated and we will stamp it out.
Callum has a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram page. To find out more about what he will do as SU President, check them out!
VOTE at qubsu.org by logging in to your student account and voting for each individual position!